The best tides and time frames spelled the most success at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers this past week. These were mostly strong morning incomings and afternoon outgoings. Spanish mackerel, jacks, and bluefish finally rose in the water column to smaller schools of scaled sardines that took to the surface. Mangrove snapper continued on a great night bite, but some anglers were able to take some nice mangos during the heat of the day. Snook were common catches along the tollbooth areas, and a few very large females were caught & released. Nice blacktip sharks continued to provide lots of action. Pompano also showed up along the approach sections to the delight of jig anglers.
Baitfish have seemed to stay deeper than usual all season long, but a dramatic change occurred this week with loads surface schools of young-of-the-year scaled sardines. These fish are like candy to Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, and many other pier species. They are not nearly as large as fully grown scaled sardines or threadfin herring, but seem to attract plenty of action. Anglers were using them both live and dead this past week with great success.
Many afternoons this past week saw Spanish mackerel crashing baitfish schools near the surface. These fish are taking artificial lures that are on the smaller side because the bait they are hitting is schools of younger scaled sardines. A few schools of jack crevalle also joined this bite. Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel had success all day long, but it seemed that afternoon to late afternoon was best for anglers to take a limit of fish. When bait is small, lures like nylon speck rigs and freshwater crappie jigs can be great options, in addition to the spoons and Gotcha lures that nearly always produce. Straw lures on bubble floats were good as well as the bait began to rise. Sabiki-style rigs with white shrimp or multi-colored squid also performed well.
Free-lining live or using cut strips of sardines was also very effective for mackerel at the piers this past week. Scaled sardines can be purchased at the bait shops, netted, or caught with sabiki-style baitfish rigs. Baitfish need not be kept alive, but should be kept fresh on ice. If live, simply let them swim free or under a float. If dead, use a scissor to cut the belly portion (resembling a white canoe) or the back portion into a long and slender chunk. Use a 1/0 or 2/0 long shank hook and 25 lb. or 30 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Free-line this simplistic bait out with the tide and simply let it swim or flutter in place. A split-shot sinker can be used for depth or a float for surface feeding fish. Rods can even be placed in rod holders on a medium-light drag and many mackerel will hook themselves.
Mangrove snapper remained the best nighttime alternative for anglers seeking some of the finest eating fish in Tampa Bay. Mangos this past week were fat and plentiful, with some anglers reporting a limit of 12″ – 14″ fish over a few hours of fishing. Live or freshly frozen shrimp, sardines or herring were top baits. Most anglers are fishing the artificial reefs on the outgoing tide and some fish pier or main bridge pilings on the incoming tide. Some daytime fish were caught underneath the pier itself using a bounce-and-lift method to get the bait under their feet with the pull of the tide.
Pompano became an option along the approach sections – from the tollbooth to the dumpster areas – and many anglers reported catching this tasty silver fish. Anglers had to sort through some small fish to get some keepers, but did not mind the action because these fish fight so well. Bouncing banana-style pompano jigs with fly teasers was best, though some fish were caught on nylon jigs. Popular colors were pink, white, chartreuse